After forming to ensure that their voices are being heard in Leamington, the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Committee took measures to ensure that the voices of mental health patients and advocates are also being heard.
As its first-ever public forum, the MYAC presented We Are Here: A Mental Health Conversation Panel at the Leamington Kinsmen Recreation Complex Thursday, Feb. 8. The public gathering served as an opportunity for a team of panelists to share their personal stories while at the same time shedding light on the struggles facing mental health patients. Presented to a gathering of a about 70 guests, the session also served as an opportunity to counter the assumptions and stereotypes that are often associated with various mental health conditions and issues.
“We’re here to both start and continue the overall conversation about mental health while creating awareness and understanding,” explained MYAC chairperson Kiara Clement, who has been with the group for the past five years. “It’s also important to fight the stigma on the topic.”
The local Mayor’s Youth Advisory Committee has been planning We Are Here since December of 2017 and set up an Eventbrite web page where interested residents could register. The two-hour event was sponsored by Piroli Construction, WorldSource Financial Management Inc., Leamington mayor John Paterson, WFCU Credit Union and Essex Powerline Corporation.
The conference began with the introduction of five participating panelists, each with a different story on how and why they’ve been challenged by various mental health issues and diagnoses. The group included Alyssia Dietrich, Dylan Dundas, Rebecca Laplante, Jason Mackenzie and Meaghan Marton, each of whom also took part in a question and answer session from the gathering of guests at the LKRC gymnasium.
The event was mediated by RN Megan Miinch, who specializes in mental health and addictions. Topics covered throughout the conversations included mental illness, self worth and esteem, abusive relationships, family issues, suicide, coping mechanisms and public resources and services available to mental health patients. The open forum was attended by the nine current members of the MYAC — made up of local high school students — Leamington council member Larry Verbeke, mayor John Paterson and social workers with the Canadian Mental Health Association and Windsor-Essex County Health Care. Representatives of the two groups set up booths at the conference where they were also available to answer guests’ questions.
“Mental health is something a lot of people still are not ready to open up about,” explained Clement. “It affects every individual’s life at some point — it’s time for people to talk about it.”
“When kicking the elephant out of the room and removing the stigma, we can erase it,” said Dietrich on the general public’s reluctance to address mental health issues.
Money raised through donations as admission and in exchange for refreshments and snacks provided at We Are Here are being contributed to The Bridge Leamington Youth Resource Centre on Sherk Street.